By on August 10, 2021

2022 Hyundai Kona N

I was still rubbing sleep from my eyes when I checked my phone upon waking. I was scheduled to drive the Hyundai Santa Cruz, and here was a notification of an email saying something about driving the Hyundai Kona N instead. Was Hyundai short a truck or something?

Nope, they just had two Kona Ns around for media to drive at the lunch stop, and those Ns had to get there somehow. Would I like to drive one?

I’d be happy to, I said, even if it meant weird looks from the rest of our gathered group. As one journalist I know joked when I pulled up to the first break stop: “You know we’re here to drive the Santa Cruz, right?”

Whatever, man. I may have flown four hours to drive the new minitruck, but seat time in the N seemed like it might be a nice bonus. And, for the most part, it was.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

(Full disclosure: Hyundai flew me out to Palo Alto, California so that I could drive the Santa Cruz, and apparently, the N. The company offered nice meals and a gift basket in the hotel that included snacks, which I ate, and a backpack, t-shirt, and coffee mug that I left behind.)

The 2022 Hyundai Kona N isn’t just a trim with some performance badging, it’s hopped-up. If the regular Kona is a bland piece of chicken, and the higher-trim Konas are well-seasoned pieces of meat, the N has been doused in hot sauce.

Yes, that metaphor is a bit tortured, but you get the point. This compact crossover has a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder that makes 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. That power gets to the front wheels via an eight-speed wet-type dual-clutch transmission that Hyundai says is specifically calibrated for the N model, with quicker shifts. An N Grin Shift mode offers up 20 seconds of turbo overboost at the push of a button, temporarily raising horsepower during those 20 seconds to 286.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Other performance-related additions include an electronic limited-slip differential, 19-inch wheels, performance-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, and upgraded tires. There’s launch control, a variable exhaust system, and five drive modes including Eco, Normal, Sport, N, and Custom. Changing modes can adjust how the engine, stability control, exhaust sound, and steering behave.

On the road, it all works to bring forth a Kona that’s more than a little high-strung. As if the car had imbibed in too much of the coffee that comes from the Kona area of Hawaii. Its exhaust note gives away the game – it’s much louder than that of the standard Kona, though still acceptable for commuting until you hit one of the “N” buttons on the steering wheel to summon one of the N modes (my test vehicle had two modes setup, with one being more aggressive than the other).

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Hitting that button summons a different screen for the digital gauge cluster, and you can also summon more performance data from an N display for the infotainment screen.

Whatever mode you’re in, the N feels quite quick, at least relative to the type of vehicle it is, and the NGS button helped me blow by a slow-moving semi on the 101 freeway with ease.

Our drive route started out on the boring freeway, before taking us on a four-lane highway with gentle curves and lots of elevation change towards Santa Cruz. After trundling through town, there was a quick run up the coast and back, then a turn towards the mountains and the redwoods, including a stint on the famed Skyline Boulevard. I flew to California to drive the Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz – and in the end, I didn’t.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Which, as you’ll see shortly when my Santa Cruz first drive drops, may have worked out in my favor. While the little trucklet is no chore to drive, the Kona N can do things that it cannot.

Things that surprised me. I was concerned that the Kona N’s crossover shape and higher center of gravity relative to a sedan (or the Veloster N hatch) would keep it from being fun, but it handled better than I expected. Body roll was muted to the point of almost non-existence, and transitions flowed with ease. My speed picked up as I got more comfortable with the road – I’ve tackled parts of Skyline before, but it’s been years – and also with the car. I found that I could get more and more aggressive without running into bad behavior from the chassis. I am sure if I pushed it a bit harder I’d generate some understeer, and I did hold back a little because Skyline isn’t a place for mistakes, but at the pace I was moving – quite a good clip – the Kona N was quite competent when it came to enthusiastic driving.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

This, of course, comes at a cost. Wind and road noise were ever-present and too loud for my taste, even when I cranked the radio. Some of that may have been a result of a specific match between the tires and the type of pavement being used locally. The exhaust note burps and burbles, even in the quietest mode, and that will rankle some when commuting.

Still, it’s a better daily than the Veloster N, at least in some respects – the seats aren’t quite as bolstered and feel more comfortable, and even in N mode, the Kona N doesn’t feel quite as tightly wound as the always-on Veloster. The DCT is a bit more pleasant to use in this application – I didn’t pick up on too many harsh shifts. It’s also willing to hold onto gears, at least in N mode, which made the run through the redwoods that much more entertaining.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Hyundai gets credit for the steering here – it’s nicely weighted and appropriately firm. Hyundai lists the power steering as rack-mounted, motor-driven. My only complaint was that the feel of what the tires were up to was a bit too muted.

The freeway ride was stiff but acceptable, at least on California’s roads. I wonder how the Kona N will handle Midwestern potholes.

For those wondering, the front suspension is a MacPherson strut with coil springs and electronically controlled gas shocks, while the rear is multilink, also with electronically-controlled gas shocks. The N is one-tenth of an inch higher than its non-N brethren.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

Available features include arear spoiler, heated front seats, navigation, satellite radio, premium audio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual USB ports, wireless device charging, BlueLink telematics, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, driver-attention warning, high-beam assist, rear-occupant alert, and safe-exit warning.

Pricing and fuel-economy numbers have not yet been released.

2022 Hyundai Kona N

The Hyundai Kona N is an odd duck. There’s no real need for a full-on N version of a compact crossover. I don’t really know who the buyer for this is – maybe the Veloster N intender who needs more ground clearance and four doors, or who is put off by that car’s constant urge to play? The Kona N is a tad more relaxed than its hatchback stablemate, though still more high-strung than the regular Kona.

Maybe the buyer here is the person who loves the idea of surprising passengers and nearby traffic by using the flick of a switch to turn Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde.

I don’t know who will willingly make the trade-offs in ride and NVH to check the box for a Hyundai Kona N. I do know those who do will be pleasantly surprised.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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18 Comments on “2022 Hyundai Kona N First Drive – Double Shot of Espresso...”

  • avatar
    Undead Zed

    I really don’t get the point of these hopped-up CUVs. Isn’t the whole point in getting this over a hatchback is that you get cushy suspension and a raised seating position? If you put low, stiff suspension on a crossover you’re just making an overweight hatch with crap fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar

      The way I see it, if automakers are going to keep shoving these damn crossovers at us, they might as well make some that are entertaining to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I mean really this is just a slightly tall hatchback. Which means more room inside and better ingress and egress. Since there isn’t enough mainstream buyers of sedans I assume automakers are playing with CUVS to see if they can full drop the sedans and still keep former sedan and hatch buyers in the brand with these offerings.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed, this is a slightly tall hatchback.

        2 inches shorter than my GTI. 4 inches taller. Same width. Same weight.

        Call it what you will…despite the lower torque figure than my GTI, it competes directly with the GTI in the market.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe Remi

      It’s not lower, which seems to be the point of the car. I don’t know that there’s an actual “old folks who love hot hatches” market but I’m in it. I’m a slightly creaky 59-years-old and want all the performance and pops and crackles, but I need a seat I can slide into without a massive drop to the ground and doesn’t have huge bolsters. The room to carry stuff is mandatory, too. I like this thing a LOT.

      • 0 avatar

        ” I don’t know that there’s an actual “old folks who love hot hatches” market but I’m in it. I’m a slightly creaky 59-years-old and want all the performance and pops and crackles, but I need a seat I can slide into without a massive drop to the ground and doesn’t have huge bolsters. The room to carry stuff is mandatory, too. I like this thing a LOT.”

        Same here but at 55. While I do like a vehicle like this, just not this one. I hate the looks of the Kona.

    • 0 avatar

      Tell that to BMW and MB with their M and AMG variants of their CUVs, much less the G63 AMG.

      And like others have this stated, this is just a slightly lifted hatch.

  • avatar

    Any word on pricing for this?

    Also, is this FWD or AWD? I tried out a Sonata N, and torque steer was definitely an issue.

    • 0 avatar

      The Kona N is front wheel drive. However it does come with a limited slip, which the Sonata N-Line and K5 GT lack.

      Not sure on pricing but most places are expecting about $35k. A GV70 2.5T with standard AWD and a RWD-based platform starts at $40k so do with that as you will.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Mentioned in the review that it’s front drive and pricing is TBA. Hoping Hyundai updates the pricing soon.

  • avatar

    It weighs in at 300 lbs more than my 2013MINI S, with the additional 80hp, I would take a look in the next 3 years.

  • avatar

    It weighs in at 300 lbs more than my 2013MINI S, with the additional 80hp, I would take a look in the next 3 years.

  • avatar

    “The freeway ride was stiff but acceptable, at least on California’s roads. I wonder how the Kona N will handle Midwestern potholes.”

    As a Veloster N owner in Chicago, I can tell you that you do not want to hit potholes with the 35 series tires and 19″ wheels in the Performance Package (now standard). It literally feels like direct metal to pavement contact. I blistered two tires last summer and I’m extremely careful about this. My E36 M3 with its 45 series Pilot Sports on 17″ rims feels like a ’78 Coupe DeVille by comparison.

    But otherwise, the car is a hoot to drive and I have gladly accepted the trade-off. And the Kona N will have 40 series tires, versus the 35 series on the Veloster, so that’ll probably help.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I hate that display way up high. Seems like it could have been integrated into the dash by pushing it down about 4″, then let the vents live on either side of it.

  • avatar

    I like the colour and the shape. I could see my younger son loving it.

  • avatar

    Say “N” to this

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I like the color as well it is similar to the Area 51 color on the Maverick but without the gray base. This Kona will sell well.

  • avatar

    I mean here’s my take – I’m glad if we’re stuck with crossovers that they are investing to make them entertaining!

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